This is just getting a little ridiculous.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweeted this in early June:
Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Moses Malone, Stephen Jackson and even Rasheed Wallace all came out and said that their teams would be able to “sweep” or “run through” the Warriors. These NBA greats all are worthy of their opinions, whether they are correct or not. It gets a little insulting and completely mind-boggling, however, to start questioning the greatness of one Warrior in particular, Stephen Curry.
This is what made McMenamin’s tweet odd and concerning (he covers the NBA for a living). The great Oscar Robertson came out and said that defenses simply were not trying hard enough to defend Curry. Their lack of effort and physicality was leading to Curry’s dominance. Scottie Pippen spewed some wild theory that Curry was not a dominant player.
Experts/media analysts everywhere were almost dismissing the fantastic Finals/playoffs that Curry had, because it was not as good as Kevin Durant’s.
Back to McMenamin’s Tweet
He lists eight players who he considers world-class players. However, his list lacks arguably the only player LeBron can/should top on that list. Back in 2012, the Warriors traded fan favorite Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. The fans in attendance mercilessly booed the owners during Chris Mullen’s jersey retirement. Yet, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber knew what they were doing. They were officially putting the franchise in the hands of Stephen Curry. Since the beginning of the following season, the Warriors have won 364 games, and lost only 130 (including playoffs). That .737 winning percentage actually increases to an otherworldly 254-54 (.825) in the last three seasons.
Oh, and the Dubs have won two championships, set a regular season record of 73-9, won 67 games sandwiching that season, sold out every game, and won numerous sports organization awards.
Steph individually? How about setting and re-setting the 3-point record every year, making All-Star and All-NBA teams, and winning two MVP’s, including the first unanimous one in NBA history.
Yet, what does one man have to do in order to be a “bet-the-house” franchise changing player?
Be Karl-Anthony Towns, a player who has yet to make an All-NBA team or sniff the playoffs? How about Russell Westbrook, who just led his team to a whopping 47 wins in the regular season and a first round exit? Anthony Davis has made the playoffs once, and he got swept by… you guessed it, Steph Curry and the Warriors, featuring Steph’s famous shot from the corner.
My problem is not with the players McMenamin listed. Giannis, KAT, AD are all superstars under 25. Russ and Harden just had unbelievable seasons. No one would doubt KD, Kawhi, or LeBron. The only problem with that tweet is with the exclusion of Steph Curry. The same Curry who has led his team as the face of the franchise to two titles, with two MVP’s. The same Curry the Warriors bet the franchise on when they traded Ellis.
The first comment on the thread is questioning why Steph is not on the list. McMenamin’s response? Collaborative talent. Come again?
Is the sign of a great player not that he makes his teammates better? Draymond Green is an elite play maker, but is he afforded the time and space he gets with the Warriors with another team? One simple pick-and-roll with Curry, and if the defense doubles him (another sign of a game-changing player), Green gets the ball with lots of time and a 4-3 situation.
If you would like a longer version of the NBA’s second deadliest play (Steph-KD Pick and Roll is 1st), this is a highlight tape exhibiting the brilliance of Curry, and how he makes Green a better player. The first half of this video is Curry finishing the play. The second half is teams doubling him, leading to Green excellence.
Klay Thompson is the second best shooter in the NBA, arguably a top three shooter of all-time, and an elite two-way player. Klay is good enough to get his numbers on whatever team he would play on. But with the Warriors, he is just a smidge more open and is afforded a split second more time. Extra time is deadly for a shooter the caliber of Klay. Now, he is a perennial All-Star, and All-NBA player, right alongside his back court mate.
One other player on McMenamin’s list is KD, and rightfully so. He is the second best player in the world. Well, third possibly. That assumption isn’t because of anything that we’ve seen or decided, but because of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
A team in the NBA Finals might think it is a good decision to guard the eventual Finals MVP. His two uncontested fast break dunks (second and third shown dunks) are a result of gravity. More specifically, the gravity of Curry’s unbelievable shooting made it so that the Cleveland Cavaliers chose to allow Durant two guaranteed points as opposed to an open Curry three. This was not just a defensive breakdown (well it was). This was Cleveland’s game plan. Steph Curry was not going to beat them.
The Cavs repeatedly double-teamed him in his pick-and-roll’s, and the man still averaged 27 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, and two steals.
The entire Finals saw a chess match between Curry and the Cavs defensive game plan, and how they defended Curry in the pick-and-roll. If you do not want to watch highlights of the quietest 30-10 clinching Finals game in NBA history, than skip forward to 1:50 and watch until around the 3:30 mark.
The first pick-and-roll with KD, both Cavs go with Durant, open three for Curry. At 2:20, a KD-West double screen for Curry saw the Cavs place three players on him within a second. One quick decision later, and Green hits an open corner three. Double Steph at 3:20 (AT THE LOGO, THIS IS HIS GRAVITY), and it ends in an Iguodala dunk.
Curry pulls players towards him and forces them to defend further from the rim. Defenders who are guarding the screen man must show or pop out to stop Steph from taking a pull-up, dribble around the screen and launching a three.
What Makes Steph, Steph
That is Steph’s best skill. Like AI’s crossover, Kareem’s sky hook, and Nowitzki’s fade-away one-legged jumper, Steph has his signature move. It is the pull-up 3-pointer. The pull-up jumper used to be a bad shot for everyone in the NBA. Now it is a bad shot for everyone but Curry. Even more dramatically, it is a shot that tons of players now attempt. Teams have seen how much shooting off the dribble can open up defenses, and star players are now shooting off the dribble with an almost reckless abandon (Harden, Russ).
While other players are certainly trying to replicate what Steph does, no one commands as much respect as Curry. This respect (fear?) leads to double teams.
Not one other player in the NBA would be double-teamed that high up the court. Yet, for Curry it is almost necessary. His shot against OKC two years ago comes to mind, as does his incredible efficiency from 30+ feet. It is gravity that cannot truly be measured, but is invaluable to the Warriors offense. The rest of the Warriors are afforded time and space, entirely caused by Curry’s shooting. That is his gravity. This ability to make teammates better – that makes him a franchise player.
This leads to a second dilemma. In the NBA today, where does Stephen Curry rank amongst the NBA’s best players?
Where Does Curry Rank?
LeBron James is very clearly number one. I have seen arguments that KD is clearly second, and that Kawhi Leonard is clearly third. Analysts and fans alike have tried to round out the top five with some combination of Russ, Harden, Giannis, and Anthony Davis. McMenamin called Curry a top ten player. Pippen said Curry was not a dominant player, can you be a non-dominant player and be a top five or ten player overall?
It will never end the debate, but it is ridiculous. Steph Curry is a top three player in the NBA. Only last year, during his second straight MVP season, there were murmurs that Curry had overtaken LeBron as the best player in basketball. His selfless act as the unanimous MVP to pursue KD and bring him to the team ended in a Championship. His numbers were not as extraordinary as last season, but that does not make him a worse player, just a smart player.
Steve Kerr was on air after the season ended when he had an interesting comment about his two best players. He openly called Durant the best player on the team, and in his argument he cited the two different physical statures of Curry and Durant. He highlighted Curry being 6’3”, while Durant at 6’10”, allowed him to do things that Curry simply cannot do.
It actually was those comments by Kerr that inspired me to do some research regarding the greatest players of all time.
What Makes an All-Time Great?
If you were to go through the exercise of naming the ten greatest NBA players of all-time, your list would most likely include a collection of these players (in no particular order after MJ)…
MJ, Magic, Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, Bird, Hakeem, Jerry West, Dr. J, Moses Malone.
The greatest team of all-time, The Dream Team, had 11 Hall of Famers and Christian Laettner.
The top scorers in NBA history is an all-time greats list, led by Kareem.
There are many players in common across those three lists. But there is one trend that sticks out like dirt on a white wall. The shortest person on the first list? 6’6”. The Dream Team, the shortest person was John Stockton. The next shortest player? 6’6”. The best scorers in NBA history, you have to go down to John Havlicek at 16 to find a player under 6’6”, and to Allen Iverson at 24 to find a player under 6’5”.
The NBA has always been a big man’s game, and it makes sense. The taller you are, the closer to the basket you are, the more likely you are to score. Here’s the problem with that logic. When the NBA instituted the 3-point shot, it was still very rarely attempted. But it is simple math, three beats two.
Steve Kerr is the leading 3-point shooter by percentage in NBA history. He made 0.8 three’s per game, for a career total of 726. Stephen Curry has made THE EXACT SAME AMOUNT OF THREE’S, 726, in the last TWO seasons. Curry has the only seasons in NBA history with more than 280 three’s, and he has done it in each of the last three years. Which to recap, is two MVP’s, two championships, three All-Star and All-NBA teams, a 73-win regular season, and an otherworldly 254-54 record including the postseason in the last three years.
It isn’t just on offense. Since 1988-89, here is the list of guards that have won the defensive player of the year award: Gary Payton. The taller you are, the more likely you are to block/alter a shot, and be considered a stout defender.
Changing the Idea of Defense
Curry is altering how people think, and defend, in the game of basketball. An open three is a much more efficient shot than an open two (excluding dunks). For Curry though, any three is a dangerous and efficient shot. Because of this, defenses are stretching further and further away from the basket to stop this barrage of threes that he and the Warriors can put an opposing team under.
The result of this type of shot making ability is that the Warriors can largely render an otherwise solid big man somewhat useless defensively. They simply pull the big man away from the hoop and make them defend in space. Here is Rudy Gobert (runner up DPOY) being put in the spin cycle by Curry.
That is what happens when a big man switches on to Curry. The prior video of the Green-Curry pick-and-roll shows what happens when there is either a double team, or the big man sags off. It either leads to a Curry open three, or a 4-on-3 opportunity. No other player has this type of drastic impact on defenses.
Keeping this is mind, go back to the original question of where he ranks in the NBA. KD and Kawhi might both be able to beat Curry 1-on-1. But that question should be viewed in a 5-on-5 setting. Neither one of those players causes the impact that Curry does.
(Side note: people often talk about Curry being a bad defender. However, he is not bad. He is scrappy. Patrick Beverley is an All-NBA defender, and is known as a feisty and scrappy defender. Curry recovered more loose balls and had more deflections this year than Beverley. Additionally, when the Cavs tried to run the pick-and-roll, Steph very admirably showed to the ball handler, and then scrambled back to guard the pick man. The Cavs were not having nearly as much success running that play this year when Curry was healthy).
I believe that people (including Kerr) rank these players and take size into account. While that is something you have to do, it seems as though there is a bias towards the taller players.
This is curious, because is there any Bible story more told in a sports setting than David and Goliath? Steph is quite literally a David in the NBA, and he is taking down these bigger men one by one. People seem to diminish just how great he actually is because he isn’t a physical freak. He is not built like LeBron, as long and skilled as KD or Kawhi. He does not have the athleticism of a Westbrook. This makes him a David, and he is slaying the rest of his competition.
During his first championship run, fans loved him, but players questioned how good he was. So much so in fact, that while Curry won the MVP, James Harden was voted by his peers as the MVP. So Curry came out the next year and was named unanimous MVP. Curry’s ascension runs parallel to the ascension of the Warriors, and now they are in some eyes the Goliath of the NBA, led by a David.
You want to cheer for and believe in David. You want to believe that David can overtake Goliath. So why is there so much hesitation to put Curry in the top two or three best players in the NBA?
Why Can’t He Be a Top-10 All-Time Player?
On an all-time scale, why is there hesitation to put the smaller players at the top of the greats list. John Stockton and Chris Paul are arguably two of the three greatest passers in NBA history, and they are nowhere to be found in top 10-15 lists. Some can argue that has to do with their lack of a championship, but no one can deny how unbelievably talented those two players are.
So where does Curry rank on the list of all-time greats, under the height of 6’5”. Stockton, AI, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas, Curry? For my money, he’s up there. To me, his two MVP’s and championships puts him right behind Stockton for second of all-time, with the ability to pass Stockton in a couple years given good health and consistent play.
For Curry, people are almost regularly calling him the greatest shooter in NBA history. So I leave you with this… What is the goal of professional basketball? To win. How do you win? Score more points than the other team. How do you score more points than the other team? You SHOOT, and you score. And that is what Curry is best at.
Curry is Worth Every Penny
So yes, he is worth the money. Yes, he is the second best player in the NBA. And yes, Curry is well on his way to being an all-time great, the second best player of this generation, just behind LeBron.
Enough is enough. Give Curry his dues and respect. Stephen Curry is a superstar among superstars. He is the biggest, most valuable, and most popular superstar on one of the NBA’s best teams in history. Steph Curry has changed the game of basketball, entirely because he is so talented and so skilled that defenses are trying to adjust.
So ponder this. What would the state of the NBA be right now if the Warriors hadn’t bet the franchise on Stephen Curry?
For all your collegiate and professional apparel needs, check out 365 Gameday.